Tulip Fever is one of the most captivating historical fiction reads I have had the pleasure of enjoying in recent years. Tulip Fever takes place in Amsterdam in the 1630’s during a time of immense wealth that is brought into the country by merchants and tulip sellers.
If you enjoyed that other iconic historical novel set in this part of the world Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier, then I think you will also enjoy this book.
Although this takes the long-suffering and stifled lust of a Girl with a Pearl Earring and instead turns up about ten notches for dramatic effect. Although this is not done in a cliched way. The encounters between a lonely young wife (Sophia) who is reluctantly betrothed to wealthy much older man (Cornelis) are believable and written in a rich, compelling and riveting way. The couple pose for a vanity portrait, engaging the help of a handsome young artist (Jan). You can just about guess the rest. Or so you think. However there are many surprising twists and turns in this novel, with a very clever final denouement that can’t be anticipated.
The tulip, a much coveted and fleetingly beautiful commodity in Holland during the Dutch Golden Age comes to symbolise the greedy, lustful and out of control parts of the relationship between Sophia and her lover Jan and how money, greed and lust can drive people over the edge and into depravity.
This novel is short and fast-paced, with lots of vibrant, vivid depictions of life under painters skies. The female characters evoke a feeling of mischief, energy, idealism hopes and dreams. I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable as an escape hatch from the world for an afternoon or a weekend. Lush settings, a compelling plot, believable and vivid characters and evocative, earthy and sensual depictions of 17th Century Holland turn book this into an epic and theatrical affair to relish and enjoy. I give it 5*